Thursday, November 9, 2006

Lesson 1: Who are the Jews, and why should you care?

For the first lesson of the new quarter, JC and I were prepared to have to convince the kids to go along with us. They had used basically the same Sunday school curriculum for most of their religious education. It had a very simple format and a straight-forward message: Go out and preach! The handouts were covered in cute activities like word-searches and mazes. They had colorful drawings on the inside, and photographs of smiling children on the cover. We really didn’t have anything like that. Our curriculum was low-tech, not at all flashy. Word searches hadn’t even come up in our planning stages.

The fall quarter began with “Promotion Sunday,” the first Sunday of September. Glitter Boy and The Scribbler, along with the two oldest girls, moved up to the fifth and sixth grade class, where, they told us, “Miss Cathy doesn’t put up with anything.” The younger girl, Ali, stayed in our class, as did David, who liked to play with the stapler. The only child to move up from the first and second grade class was Joshua. He was also the only child to bring his Bible that first week.

We began by asking the kids if they could tell us what pairs of people had in common. “How is Shel Silverstein like Leonard da Vinci? What do Christopher Columbus and Anne Frank have in common?” We had a long list. I was surprised at the people they recognized (Levi Strauss), and at those they didn’t (Lois Lowry, a children’s author). Their answers were creative and often funny. “What is the similarity between Albert Einstein and ????? Think of more examples. Look at list. Ask JC.

When they ran out of steam, we finally told them. “They are—or in some cases, were—all Jewish.”

David looked at us with mild surprise. “Natalie Portman is a Jew?”

We nodded. “Can anyone name another famous Jew?”

Silence again. I wondered if they didn’t know, or if they just didn’t feel like saying. “How about people from the Bible?” I asked. “Can you name any famous Jews from the Bible?” The kids looked seriously confused. What did the Bible have to do with Anne Frank? “Like…Moses? King David? There are a lot of Jews in the Bible. Can you think of any more?”

Ali thought for a moment. “Was Joseph a Jew?” We nodded, and the kids seemed to catch on, calling out names of other famous figures from the Old Testament.

We asked them if any of them knew why Jesus’ parents left Him behind in Jerusalem when He was only twelve, or why we use unleavened bread for our Communion. Did they know why the religious leaders reprimanded Him for healing people on the Sabbath? Could they tell us why He had two trials before His crucifixion? Did they know why He was called the Messiah, or what that meant? “The answer to all those questions,” I said, “Is because He was Jewish. That’s what we’re going to learn about this quarter. I think it will be fun.” Our students looked dubious.

We pulled out big white pieces of construction paper and helped all of the kids find crayons. “Have you made a family tree before?” we asked. They shook their heads. We showed them how, using JC’s family because it was much neater than mine—only one divorce in several generations, and that, a childless one. My family tree looked more like a family bramble patch. Later, when we had gotten about halfway through Jesus’ family tree, I realized that God’s chosen people made my family look like a manicured garden. Maybe that’s why he chose them—so we wouldn’t feel quite so intimidated.

All of the kids’ family trees started out well enough. Here’s me. Here are my brothers and my sisters. Here are my parents. Easy. Then grandparents. Ali looked stricken. “I don’t remember if my Mimaw is my mom’s mom or my dad’s mom.”

“Does she look more like your dad, or more like your mom?” JC asked.

Ali though for a minute. “Now I remember. She’s my mom’s mom.[?]” Ali carefully wrote “Mimaw” above “Mommy.” None of the kids were able to get farther back than their grandparents. Only one was able to manage his aunts and uncles. I had forgotten how vague my knowledge of my extended family was when I was their age. Even now, as an adult, I sometimes have trouble differentiating between all five of my dad’s brothers. When I was nine, I don’t know if I could have diagrammed my family without my parents’ help. I hadn’t thought about this, but the thing that made their activity difficult gave my lesson power.

“What if you could name every person—your grandparents and your great-grandparents and your great-great-great-great-great-grandparents, all the way back to Adam?”

“Woah,” said Ali, her eyes wide. “That would be a lot of people.”

“Jesus could do that. Not just because he was God, either. A lot of people in his culture could. The list of all your ancestors is called your genealogy, and Jesus’ is written in the book of Luke. Could everyone turn to the third chapter of Luke, please?” Joshua started paging through his Bible as the others ran to pull extras off the book shelf. “JC is going to read from verse twenty-three to the end of the chapter, ok? When you hear a name you recognize, put up your hand.”

As JC read, the kids followed along, and a hand wandered into the air every few names. “Who was on that list that you know a story about?” he asked, when he was done.

“Abraham!” said Joshua.

“David!” said David.

“Why aren’t there any women in this list?” asked Ali.

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